Before Brad Ausmus arrived, Jim Leyland haunted this city. In 2006 Leyland was the hero. Seemingly every year after, he was made the villain.
Leyland's name was on sports radio. It was in conversations at the bar. It came up in friendly living room debates and small talk conversations in lobbies.
With it came an often disrespectful tone. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. His bullpen management is horse (manure). He has so much talent and so little to show for it. He just doesn’t light the team up like he did in that infamous 2006 rant. Surely an expletive-laden stream would get everything back on track. He just must not care like he used to.
So there was only one thing to do.
Fire Jim Leyland!
And if he had been fired, it would have been the same fate so many managers before received. Managers are hired to be fired. They know that going in. The minute they accept a job they essentially seal their fate that some day they will be told their team no longer needs them, that the fans applauding them will turn against them when things do not go right. It is a thankless task. They know that.
Today, the Tigers sit nine games under .500. They are just above last place in the American League. If you’re on social media you know that their 36-45 record midway through the year is the organization’s worst first-half since 2003, that their pace equates to 72-90. The last time they were worse was 2005, when they finished 71-91. They went 72-90 in 2004.
When those feckless years become the comparisons for an organization, you know that nobody is happy. The players, including stars who’ve appeared in the World Series representing this city, aren’t happy. The manager and his coaches aren’t happy. The front office isn’t happy. And one would think the owner shelling out about $200 million in payroll while the attendance drops to a 12-year low, isn’t happy either.
To say that Ausmus is on the hot seat would be the understatement of the year. A wise man in his position would have the official real estate broker of the Detroit Tigers on speed dial, because he knows there’s a good chance he’ll be moving soon.
It’s kind of funny, really. Ausmus has a winning record in Detroit. And statistically speaking, you can make an argument he’s getting more out of the roster than should be expected.
The Pythagorean win-loss record is one of the building blocks of advanced metrics, it’s been around so long and has been tested by experience again and again.
Based on runs scored and runs allowed, the Tigers should have won 86 games in Ausmus’ first season. They won 90. They should have won 69 games in his second season. They won 74. They should have won 83 games last year. They won 86. This year is the first he slips into negative territory.
You can do this another way, just by adding up the WAR totals. The results closely mirror the Pythagorean way.
This mess just isn’t Ausmus’ fault. It’s hard to measure a manager. The people who talk about the job the most have never been behind closed doors, been a part of the meetings, thought through the strategy of managing a 162-game season, or considered the physical or mental state of each player on the entire roster.
Nor do the fans and pundits want to take into consideration a roster is largely set by the general manager — or in these Tigers’ case, his predecessor and the late owner.
They just know if the players did well, the team won. If the players didn’t do well, it’s the manager’s fault.
Owner Chris Ilitch and general manager Al Avila have a lot to think about this month in trying to find a way for this organization to start building back to being a winner, and bringing excitement and fans back to the park.
Ausmus’ future will undoubtedly be part of the conversation, and it should be.
Firing him now won’t save the season. But when his contract is up at the end of this year, maybe it’ll be best for everyone to go in new directions.
You can blame Ausmus for never doing everything the way you’d like him to. But in the end we’ll see that he did just fine as a manager and just never had a chance to succeed at the front of a team with a rapidly closing window.
As for Leyland, the most remarkable thing you can say is that he went out on his terms. Seemingly no one remembers just how badly they wanted him replaced only a handful of years ago. Today he is a beloved figure.
Ausmus never stood a chance.
Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.